The sugar maple is in trouble.
There is an increasing concern for climate-induced impacts on the sugar maple in southern Ontario and Quebec. Concerns that were raised already in the 1950s have resurfaced in recent reports of a declining maple syrup industry.
In January 2018 scientists published a study in the journal Ecology on how the fate of maple trees is threatened by climate change. The growth of sugar maple trees will be stunted over the decades by climate change through warmer and drier growing seasons. Examination of 20 years of tree and soil data in four Michigan locations, found that, despite increased nitrogen from agricultural runoff for growth, lack of water will drive the negative impact on maples growth.
Lead researcher Inés Ibáñez, ecology professor at the University of Michigan, used climate modeling to forecast the fate of sugar maples if nothing is done to curb greenhouse gas emissions (and associated water stresses to sugar maple habitat). “The biggest trees will still be there, but won’t be growing as much and the little saplings won’t survive, [so] once the older trees start dying, there will be no new trees to replace them,” she says. Scientists project that in southern Ontario, some of the highest occurrences of sugar maple stands also show the strongest potential to decline under climate change.
Scientists Scott Bailey (a geologist/soil scientist), Steve Horsley (a forest physiologist), Bob Long (a plant pathologist), and Rich Hallett (an expert in foliar chemistry)—who have been studying sugar maple decline since 1995—agree that climate change (e.g., milder winters) contribute to the insect infestations threatening sugar maples. Historically, native insects are on a cycle of population growth and decline every 10 – 20 years. “What’s been happening instead is that species are going away and coming back every 3-4 years,” says Bailey.
In the last chapter of her book The Global Forest: 40 Ways Trees Can Save Us Diana Beresford-Kroeger shares an ancient aboriginal legend and prophesy.
“The prophesy will happen around the time of the great dying of the North American maples, Acer saccharum, the sugar maples,” Beresford-Kroeger writes. “These maples are the great feeding trees of the eastern seaboard of America. These trees will begin to decline from the tip. At first the tops of the trees will wither and die. Then the disease will spread downward through the trees until they lose all of their leaves. This dying is the beginning of the timeline of the destruction of nature.”
Other trees will similarly succumb, says the legend. The loss of forests will foreshadow a period of devastation. Not realizing what they have done, people will continue to rape nature senselessly. From this morass, a new generation will spring. Different, gifted, empathic, even telepathic. They will have the gift of the dream, which will give them clarity of vision and an understanding of what their parents have done. The children will want to collectively help the planet and nature, says Beresford-Kroeger.
“They will hold hands across the planet in their minds. They will alter their parents’ ways. They will encourage one another. In this circle of life the children will save their parents through a dream and through a prophecy. In saving their parents they will save the planet.”
They will have to; because we shamefully aren’t…
Beresford-Kroeger, Diana. 2010. “The Global Forest: 40 Ways Trees Can Save Us.” Penguin Books. 175pp.
Brown, Sarah. 2015. “Global Warming Pushes Maple Trees, Syrup to the Brink.” National Geographic, Dec. 2, 2015. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/people-and-culture/food/the-plate/2015/12/02/global-warming-pushes-maple-trees-syrup-to-the-brink/
Mathews, Stephen N. and Louis R. Iverson. 2017. “Managing for delicious ecosystem service under climate change: can United States sugar maple (Acer saccharum) syrup production be maintained in a warming climate? Inter.J. Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services & Management, 13 (2): 40-52.
Mclaughlin, D.L., S.N. Linzon, D. E. Dimma, W.D. McIlveen. 1987. “Sugar Maple Decline in Ontario.” Effects of Atmospheric Pollutants on Forests, Wetlands and Agricultural Ecosystems. NATO ASI Series 16: 101-116.
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s recent book is the bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” (Mincione Edizioni, Rome). Her latest “Water Is…” is currently an Amazon Bestseller and NY Times ‘year in reading’ choice of Margaret Atwood.